Sony rises on report it will ditch PC unit

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Bloomberg

A worker demonstrates using a Sony Vaio Pro Ultrabook laptop computer during a product launch in Tokyo last June. The Japanese electronics giant intends to stop making personal computers after years of losses, according to a report. Sony will release results for the fourth quarter today. Photo: Bloomberg

Tokyo - Sony’s plans to quit making personal computers (PCs) after years of losses focus a spotlight on how it aims to fix a far bigger problem: a flagship television division that has lost $7.5 billion (R83.7bn) over the past 10 years.

The pullout comes as Japan’s electronics firms look for daylight beyond the shadow of industry giants like Apple and Samsung Electronics. Exiting the Vaio PC business Sony founded 17 years ago would mark the first time chief executive Kazuo Hirai pulls a major consumer product line.

Still unclear is when Sony can catch up with local peers Panasonic and Sharp on the restructuring track. The pair have swallowed charges, sold off or cured many loss-making businesses, and bounced back to strong profits.

Sony was now in talks with Japan Industrial Partners, a Japanese fund that buys up businesses that are being restructured, to take over the Vaio brand’s operations in Japan, according to the plan under consideration, a source told Reuters yesterday.

Financial details and final stakes in the new entity were still being discussed, the source said. Sony is scheduled to report earnings for the quarter to December today.

The deal will follow the disposal of assets such as its New York headquarters and a major building in Tokyo last year and could presage Hirai stepping up restructuring efforts, said Macquarie Research analyst Damian Thong.

Sony said it had not made any announcements about its PC business and that it was exploring various options for the unit. An official at Japan Industrial Partners declined to comment.

Sony’s shares rose 4.6 percent yesterday, as investors welcomed the reports on the Vaio sale. It was outdone by Panasonic, whose shares surged 19 percent after it more than tripled third-quarter operating profit.

Sony does not break out details of its PC division’s financial performance. Analysts estimate its operating loss in the year to March this year will be around ¥30 billion (R3.3bn).

Dwarfed by industry giants like Lenovo as well as Apple and Samsung, Sony’s share of the PC market slipped to 1.9 percent last year from 2.3 percent in 2011, according to research firm Gartner.

The news that Sony is preparing to exit one of its better-known brands will sharpen interest in the performance of its television business when it reports earnings. Analysts expect a strong showing by Sony’s financial services and music businesses to help lift operating profit for the quarter to about ¥72bn from ¥46.4bn a year earlier.

In the first six months of fiscal 2013, Sony’s financial unit brought home ¥85.2bn in operating profit. But Sony logged just ¥51.1bn in operating profit overall, revealing deep losses for electronic gadgets such as video games, audio equipment and televisions.

Sony’s progress has been hampered by its reliance on consumer electronics. With an array of business-to-business divisions, Panasonic and Sharp have been able to adjust their business models and focus on industrial products, like car parts, solar panels or energy-efficient housing systems, instead of consumer goods.

Having last turned an annual operating profit in the 12 months to March 2004, Sony’s television business has piled up total operating losses of ¥761.9bn since then.

Sony has based its fightback on smartphones, PlayStation game consoles, and imaging sensors for mobile devices as well as digital cameras. But analysts have mixed views on their long-term prospects, and many have been frustrated by the slow pace of progress in other businesses. – Reuters


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